Definitions

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • n. A network of forced labor camps in the former Soviet Union.
  • n. A forced labor camp or prison, especially for political dissidents.
  • n. A place or situation of great suffering and hardship, likened to the atmosphere in a prison system or a forced labor camp.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • n. A prison camp.
  • n. A generic name for the system of all Soviet prison camps in use during the Stalinist period.

Etymologies

Russian Gulag, from G(lavnoe) u(pravlenie ispravitel'no-trudovykh) lag(ereĭ), Chief Administration (of Correctional Labor) Camps.
(American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)
From the Russian acronym ГУЛАГ: Главное управление исправительно-трудовых лагерей (Glávnoje upravlénije ispravítel’no-trudovýx lageréj, "Chief Administration of Corrective-Labor Camps, Main Directorate for Places of Detention, Main Administration of Corrective Labor Camps, etc.") (Wiktionary)

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